When the City Council voted on October 1, 2013 not to fluoridate Davis water, it concluded
that body’s sixth public policy decision on this
matter spread over a remarkable 53 years (1960-2013).
While many aspects of this implausible series of events merit description, two stand out in my mind.
One, unlike what is claimed about some other communities, the criticism of fluoridation in all six episodes--and that carried the day in five of the six--was dominantly science-based.
Original or neo-John Birchers were scant or absent, internationalist conspiracies to dominate the world were barely mentioned, and anti-science rhetoric was virtually never voiced.
Instead, concern with the valid use of statistics, solid research design, and scientific evidence framed the opposition’s critiques.
Two, three people formed the backbone of this 53 year unbroken legacy.
The first of these science-based critics was Hubert Arnold, a UCD professor of Mathematics and Statistics. He began as a minor figure in the 1960 episode (Image 1) but became a major organizer and spokesperson in the two 1964 contests. When fluoridation was approved in an early 1964 balloting, he was one of two people who immediately set about developing a voter initiative to place the matter on the ballot again in late 1964 (images 2, 3 and 4). This second vote reversed the first one and fluoridation was never implemented.
When the subject came before the Council again in 1971, Arnold was once more there to lead the opposition and to articulate scientific objections (image 5).
And when it surfaced again in 1991, Arnold led the scientific objection argument, citing “comments from various experts on fluoridation” (image 6).
He was 79 years old in 1991 and was going irremediably blind. He knew he faced blindness and he prepared for it.
Among those preparations, he gave all his files of scientific articles on fluoridation research to Barbara King, whom he knew as a fellow science-based opponent of fluoridation. Notice that the 1991 Council minutes, reproduced in Image 6, record her speaking just after him at that Council hearing.
With this, the torch was passed.
The topic of fluoridation lay dormant until the Sacramento water project reanimated it in 2013.
In this sixth episode, Alan Pryor took up the role of lead spokesperson for the science-based critique.
But, the intellectual lineage here would be incomplete and misleading if we did not also know that Barbara King had long been protecting and enlarging the torch that Arnold passed to her.
As put by Pryor:
To me at least, this is a very remarkable story. It is a story of connections and commitments forged long ago that were seemingly remote and irrelevant. But, by twists of circumstances coming years and years later, these connections and commitments suddenly became critical in shaping Davis public policy.
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This is also exactly the kind of story we should expect to see in a university city like Davis. Our community attracts thinking, science-oriented people who meet and influence one another over long periods of time.
Further, this is one of the best stories in Davis history--the long-term resilience of science-based thinking and its support by Davis residents.
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Professor Arnold spent considerable time critiquing fluoridation over many years. Even so, this activity was only a small involvement in the larger array of matters that interested him and for which he was and is known.
Of course, he should be remembered for his intellectual and activist opposition to fluoridation.
But there are a great many other and perhaps even more important reasons to remember him. I will report these in two future posts.